Child Psychiatry & Human Development

, Volume 46, Issue 3, pp 466–473 | Cite as

Sensation Seeking Predicting Growth in Adolescent Problem Behaviors

  • Gayle R. Byck
  • Gregory Swann
  • Benjamin Schalet
  • John Bolland
  • Brian Mustanski
Original Article


There is limited literature on the relationship between sensation seeking and adolescent risk behaviors, particularly among African Americans. We tested the association between psychometrically-derived subscales of the Zuckerman Sensation Seeking Scale and the intercepts and slopes of individual growth curves of conduct problems, sexual risk taking, and substance use from ages 13 to 18 years by sex. Boys and girls had different associations between sensation seeking and baseline levels and growth of risk behaviors. The Pleasure Seeking scale was associated with baseline levels of conduct problems in boys and girls, baseline substance use in boys, and growth in sexual risk taking and substance use by girls. Girls had the same pattern of associations with the Danger/Novelty scale as the Pleasure Seeking scale. Knowledge about the relationships between adolescent risk taking and sensation seeking can help in the targeted design of prevention and intervention programs for the understudied population of very low-income, African American adolescents.


Sensation seeking Conduct problems Sexual risk taking Substance use Adolescents African Americans 



This project was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (RO1DA025039). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funders.


  1. 1.
    Arnett J (1992) Reckless behavior in adolescence: a developmental perspective, vol 12. Netherlands, Elsevier Science, pp 339–373Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Greene K et al (2000) Targeting adolescent risk-taking behaviors: the contribution of egocentrism and sensation-seeking, vol 23. Netherlands, Elsevier Science, pp 439–461Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Zuckerman M (1994) Behavioral expressions and biosocial bases of sensation seeking. New York, NY, Cambridge University Press, 463, xivGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Stautz K, Cooper A (2013) Impulsivity-related personality traits and adolescent alcohol use: a meta-analytic review. Clin Psychol Rev 33(4):574–592CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Marmorstein NR (2013) Associations between dispositions to rash action and internalizing and externalizing symptoms in children. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol 42(1):131–138CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Hittner JB, Swickert R (2006) Sensation seeking and alcohol use: a meta-analytic review. Addict Behav 31(8):1383–1401CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Kaynak O et al (2013) Relationships among parental monitoring and sensation seeking on the development of substance use disorder among college students. Addict Behav 38(1):1457–1463CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Quinn PD, Harden KP (2013) Differential changes in impulsivity and sensation seeking and the escalation of substance use from adolescence to early adulthood. Dev Psychopathol 25(1):223–239CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Malmberg M et al (2012) Do substance use risk personality dimensions predict the onset of substance use in early adolescence? A variable- and person-centered approach. J Youth Adolesc 41(11):1512–1525CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Malmberg M et al (2010) Substance use risk profiles and associations with early substance use in adolescence. J Behav Med 33(6):474–485CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Castellanos-Ryan N, Conrod PJ (2011) Personality correlates of the common and unique variance across conduct disorder and substance misuse symptoms in adolescence. J Abnorm Child Psychol 39(4):563–576CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    MacPherson L et al (2010) Changes in sensation seeking and risk-taking propensity predict increases in alcohol use among early adolescents. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 34(8):1400–1408PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Sargent JD et al (2010) Using sensation seeking to target adolescents for substance use interventions. Addiction 105(3):506–514CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Brook JS, Zhang C, Brook DW (2011) Developmental trajectories of marijuana use from adolescence to adulthood: personal predictors. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 165(1):55–60CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Kong G et al (2013) Pubertal status, sensation-seeking, impulsivity, and substance use in high school-aged boys and girls. J Addict Med 7(2):116–121CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Pedersen SL et al (2012) Racial differences in the development of impulsivity and sensation seeking from childhood into adolescence and their relation to alcohol use. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 36(10):1794–1802CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Voisin DR, Tan K, Diclemente RJ (2013) A longitudinal examination of the relationship between sexual sensation seeking and STI-related risk factors among African American females. AIDS Educ Prev 25(2):124–134CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Voisin DR et al (2013) A longitudinal examination of risk and protective factors associated with drug use and unsafe sex among young African American females. Child Youth Serv Rev 35(9):1440–1446CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Sales JM et al (2012) Exploring factors associated with nonchange in condom use behavior following participation in an STI/HIV prevention intervention for African-American adolescent females. AIDS Res Treat 2012:231417PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Bailey SL, Gao W, Clark DB (2006) Diary study of substance use and unsafe sex among adolescents with substance use disorders. J Adolesc Health 38(3):297 e13–20Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Arnett J (1990) Contraceptive use, sensation seeking, and adolescent egocentrism. J Youth Adolesc 19(2):171–180CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Harden KP, Quinn PD, Tucker-Drob EM (2012) Genetically influenced change in sensation seeking drives the rise of delinquent behavior during adolescence. Dev Sci 15(1):150–163CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Ortin A et al (2012) Sensation seeking as risk factor for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in adolescence. J Affect Disord 143(1–3):214–222CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Cooper ML et al (2003) Personality and the predisposition to engage in risky or problem behaviors during adolescence. J Pers Soc Psychol 84:390–410CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Horvath P, Zuckerman M (1993) Sensation seeking, risk appraisal, and risky behavior. Pers Individ Differ 14:41–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Newcomb MD, McGee L (1991) Influence of sensation seeking on general deviance and specific problem behaviors from adolescence to young adulthood. J Pers Soc Psychol 61(4):614–628CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Sijtsema JJ et al (2010) Mediation of sensation seeking and behavioral inhibition on the relationship between heart rate and antisocial behavior: the TRAILS study. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 49(5):493–502PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Steinberg L et al (2008) Age differences in sensation seeking and impulsivity as indexed by behavior and self-report: evidence for a dual systems model. Dev Psychol 44(6):1764–1778CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Zuckerman M (1994) Behavioral expressions and biosocial bases of sensation seeking. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Cross CP, Copping LT, Campbell A (2011) Sex differences in impulsivity: a meta-analysis. Psychol Bull 137(1):97–130CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Cross CP, Cyrenne DM, Brown GR (2013) Sex differences in sensation-seeking: a meta-analysis. Sci Rep 3Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Rosenblitt JC et al (2001) Sensation seeking and hormones in men and women: exploring the link. Horm Behav 40(3):396–402CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Hoyle RH et al (2002) Reliability and validity of a brief measure of sensation seeking. Pers Individ Differ 32(3):401–414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Martin CA et al (2002) Sensation seeking, puberty, and nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana use in adolescence. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 41(12):1495–1502CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Hampson SE, Andrews JA, Barckley M (2008) Childhood predictors of adolescent marijuana use: early sensation-seeking, deviant peer affiliation, and social images. Addict Behav 33(9):1140–1147CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Hoyle RH, Fejfar MC, Miller JD (2000) Personality and sexual risk taking: a quantitative review. J Pers 68(6):1203–1231CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Schalet BD et al (2014) Dimensions of sensation seeking: a study of personality-psychopathology links in a low-income African American adolescent sample (in progress)Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Arnett J (1994) Sensation seeking: a new conceptualization and a new scale. Pers Individ Differ 16(2):289–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Bolland JM (2007) Overview of the mobile youth study. University of Alabama at Birmingham, School of Public HealthGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Bolland KA et al (2013) Trajectories of adolescent alcohol use by gender and early initiation status. Youth Soc. doi: 10.1177/0044118X13475639
  41. 41.
    Park N et al (2008) Early adolescent pathways of antisocial behaviors in poor, inner-city neighborhoods. SAGE, The Journal of Early Adolescence, pp 185–205Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Zuckerman M (1979) Sensation seeking: beyond the optimal level of arousal. Earlbaum, HillsdaleGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Clark LA, Watson D (1995) Constructing validity: basic issues in objective scale development. Psychol Assess 7(3):309–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Mustanski B et al (2013) Trajectories of multiple adolescent health risk behaviors in a low-income african american population. Dev Psychopathol 25(4):1155–1169Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Sterrett EM et al (2014) Predictors of co-occurring risk behavior trajectories among economically disadvantaged African-American youth: contextual and individual factors. J Adolesc Health. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.02.023
  46. 46.
    Muthén LK, Muthén BO (1998–2011) Mplus User’s Guide, Sixth Edition. Muthén and Muthén, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    West SG, Finch JF, Curran PJ (1995) Structural equation models with nonnormal variables: problems and remedies. In: Hoyle RH (ed) Structural equation modeling: concepts, issues, and applications. Sage Publications Inc, Thousand Oaks, pp 56–75, 289, xxiiGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    DiClemente R et al (2010) Development of the sexual sensation-seeking scale for African American adolescent women. Int J Sex Health 22(4):248–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Spitalnick JS et al (2007) Brief report: sexual sensation seeking and its relationship to risky sexual behaviour among African-American adolescent females. J Adolesc 30(1):165–173CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Vallone D et al (2007) How reliable and valid is the Brief Sensation Seeking Scale (BSSS-4) for youth of various racial/ethnic groups? Addiction 102(Suppl. 2):71–78CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Kissinger P et al (1999) Application of computer-assisted interviews to sexual behavior research. Am J Epidemiol 149(10):950–954CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Turner CF et al (1998) Adolescent sexual behavior, drug use, and violence: increased reporting with computer survey technology. Science 280(5365):867–873CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Zimmerman RS et al (2007) Effects of a televised two-city safer sex mass media campaign targeting high-sensation-seeking and impulsive-decision-making young adults. Health Educ Behav 34(5):810–826CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Palmgreen P et al (2007) Effects of the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s marijuana initiative campaign on high-sensation-seeking adolescents. Am J Public Health 97(9):1644–1649CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gayle R. Byck
    • 1
  • Gregory Swann
    • 1
  • Benjamin Schalet
    • 1
  • John Bolland
    • 2
  • Brian Mustanski
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Medical Social Sciences, Feinberg School of MedicineNorthwestern UniversityChicagoUSA
  2. 2.College of Human Environmental SciencesUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA

Personalised recommendations